Thousands of years ago, when Rome was at the zenith of its power, small businesses had the opportunity to sell their goods -- organic beef, craft beer, hand-stitched clothing -- to the affluent and growing middle-class populations in faraway places.
Today, not much has changed. Well, except for the fact that craft beer has definitely got to be much better. But new generations of small-business owners still sell their goods -- organic beef, craft beer, hand-stitched clothing -- to customers far away, and they face similar challenges.
Whether you were doing this stuff in Augustan Rome or are in Trumpian America, the business involves a good deal of capital invested and risk. Today, as then, some entrepreneurs elect to take that risk on themselves. Others choose to hire outside firms to help shoulder that risk.
Enter the middleman. That's the firm that says, "Look, I'll take the risk. I'll buy and collect the receivable that's owed to you. You'll get your money now, and I'll take a fee for my services." Some call this factoring. I call it financing. And in many cases, it's just good business. You do what you do best, and you let the financial people do what they do best. Everyone shares and everyone wins.
Eyal Lifshitz agrees. He's the CEO of BlueVine, a company he started about six years ago after a stint in a venture capital firm in Israel. BlueVine, according to its website, has delivered more than $1 billion in financing to over 10,000 small businesses.
The role of factoring firms hasn't changed much over the past few thousand years. But their value has. The reason: changing attitudes and, most important, technology. I asked Lifshitz about this -- and other things -- in the following interview, which has been edited for length.
Q: Factoring is not the world's oldest profession. But it's pretty old. Why the interest?
My father and grandfather were both small-business owners. I grew up watching my father, who owned a small physical therapy clinic in New York, struggle with cash-flow issues because of long payment cycles. In factoring, I saw a significant opportunity for disruption through technological innovation such as the availability of online and new machine learning methods. That gave me the idea to launch BlueVine, and to make the switch from being a venture capital investor to becoming an entrepreneur.
Q: Can you explain BlueVine's value prop and what it's doing differently from all the other factoring firms today?
We actually offer two products (factoring and a credit line). For invoice factoring, which was our first offering, we provide a truly digital experience that historically was offline, paper-based, and known to be slow and clunky. With our platform, you don't need to fax invoices or send any paper documents. All you need to do is take five minutes to apply online and upload your invoices or connect your accounting software. You can get funds in as fast as 24 hours. Additionally, a business owner can decide which invoice to submit for funding with a click of a button, unlike with many traditional factoring companies that require you to fund all of your invoices. We also offer invoice factoring credit lines of up to $5 million, which is ideal for businesses that are growing rapidly.
Q: Factoring has literally been around for thousands of years. How has it changed? What role has technology served?
At BlueVine, we use advanced technology to improve the onboarding and funding experience for small-business customers. Instead of waiting weeks to get approved for financing as it is with traditional factoring companies, business owners who use BlueVine can get approved for funds in a matter of days. We're using technology to process hundreds of data points in a matter of minutes to allow customers to finance invoices in almost real time, and have invested in A.I. to streamline our back-office processes. Additionally, we have built an intuitive online dashboard that makes it easy for small-business owners to pick and choose which invoice to submit for funding.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business, and how are you addressing it?
More and more small-business owners are discovering online business lending. In fact, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report, roughly a third of non-employer firms turned to online lenders for financing. Most people don't know online lending has become so common. Many small-business owners still think that the only option they have for financing is their bank. At BlueVine, we're on a mission to educate business owners and the market about the benefits of online lending and how this relatively new industry not only addresses important business financing needs that traditional banks have not been able to address, but also dramatically improves how customers get financing.
Q: One big issue that I would have using a factoring service like BlueVine is trust. How can I trust you with my customers?
We make sure to treat your customers with the utmost care and respect, and it shows in our numbers. We have built relationships with the accounts-payable departments of hundreds of our clients' customers, including Fortune 1000 companies like Walgreens, Verizon, and Best Buy, which are now very familiar with BlueVine's process.
Q: Is it just firms with cash-flow challenges that can benefit from BlueVine's services? My company -- a 10-person tech firm -- doesn't have these issues. We have about 50 to 60 open invoices at a time, and collection problems do not happen very often. Is there a role that BlueVine could play?
First off, I need to clarify that factoring is not about collections. It's about allowing you to access capital through your unpaid invoices. It's a smart option for businesses that sell products or services to other businesses and that typically wrestle with cash-flow gaps because of unpaid invoices and long payment cycles. It can also help businesses get convenient access to funds for short-term or emergency needs, from covering payroll to fixing a broken piece of equipment. Many of our clients use factoring to grow their business. Clients often use BlueVine to fund marketing expenses or hire more staff.